UPPER MARLBORO, Md. (AP) — A Maryland man accused of referring to himself as "a joker" and threatening to shoot up his workplace, raising alarms after Colorado's mass shooting a week earlier, is facing charges of misdemeanor telephone misuse, prosecutors said Wednesday.
The offense carries up to three years in prison and a $500 fine.
Neil E. Prescott, 28, was taken into custody last Friday for an emergency psychiatric evaluation after the threats were reported to the police. Police said they found large quantities of ammunition and about two dozen weapons, including semi-automatic rifles and pistols, in his Crofton apartment.
Prince George's County State's Attorney Angela Alsobrooks said that while the misdemeanor charge was "insufficient" punishment, Maryland law does not make it a felony to communicate general threats over the telephone. She said her office would be lobbying for a law change.
"I believe that when people like Mr. Prescott threaten violence, especially in this day and age with all that we have going on right now, he ought to be facing felony charges — not just misdemeanor charges," Alsobrooks said.
Though authorities have determined the guns were legally owned, Prescott will not be eligible to recover the weapons while the case is pending. He also won't be able to get the guns back if he's convicted or if he's hospitalized for mental health treatment for more than 30 days, she said.
Authorities have said Prescott had either been fired or was in the process of being fired from his job when he allegedly said: "I'm a joker and I'm gonna load my guns and blow everybody up." Police have said the threats, relayed in two separate conversations last Monday, were made to a supervisor, but Alsobrooks said Wednesday it was to a coworker.
The "joker" comment prompted particular concern because of a mass shooting a week earlier at a Colorado movie theater during a screening of the latest Batman movie. The man accused in those shootings had dyed his hair reddish-orange. The character Joker is a notorious villain in the Batman series.
Police also said Prescott was wearing a T-shirt that said "Guns don't kill people. I do" when officers made an initial visit to his apartment, at which point Prescott appeared "unstable," Prince George's County Police Chief Mark Magaw said.
Officers haven't been able to interview Prescott in the hospital, but police believe the threats needed to be taken seriously, in part because of the "joker" reference and the weapons' caches. Prescott will be served with the charges after he's discharged from the hospital.
"He's going to have a lot to answer to when he comes out of the hospital," the police chief said.
Prescott had been working for a subcontractor of software and mailroom supplier Pitney Bowes at a branch in Prince George's County, just outside Washington. A company spokeswoman said he had not been on company property for several months.
After he was taken into custody, friends described Prescott as a "gentle giant" — court records list him as 6 feet, 7 inches — who has a sarcastic and biting sense of humor. They said he was interested in computers and electronics, collected guns as a hobby and liked to shoot at a target range.
Phone messages left with his parents have not been returned. The Associated Press couldn't immediately reach an attorney for Prescott. Online Maryland court records list his only past offense as a speeding ticket in 2007.